Archive for the ‘novels’ Tag

Coincidences No.s 340-348

No. 340 White Album

beatles white album portraits

I walk into the office of a London production company in Shoreditch to start a new project series-producing a sports documentary series. From a varied playlist, While My Guitar Gently Weeps is playing across the office.

The same night I go to a brilliant gig at the Jazz Cafe, Camden Town. It is a young band called The Midnight Special playing the whole of The Beatles’ White Album (technically called simply The Beatles) from end to end. Today (22nd Nov) is the 50th anniversary of the UK release of the genius double LP.

No. 341 The Cure

the cure boys dont cry

I see a tweet about Brexit which makes me laugh – something along the lines of: Has anyone tried just hitting the UK on/off button? I click through to the tweeter – she describes herself as a Frenchie living in London and a Cure fan (among a couple of other things).

I am in a restaurant in Belfast as I read this tweet, over for a speaking gig at the Belfast Media Festival (about VR and the future of broadcasting). Just as I am reading it The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry comes on the music system.

I have a history of Cure-related coincidences. As a teenager I saved a small black cat from a tied sack and a watery death. The near-perpetrator was Ashley Baron-Cohen, these days a film-maker in LA. Back then a hard-hearted teen. So I offered to take the cat (I’d never had one before). I called her Woof. I took her into my other friend’s car to get her home. As Jon turned the ignition, The Cure’s Love Cats came on the radio.

No. 342 Carlingford

belfast media festival 2018 logo

I am on my way back from Belfast Media Festival. On the plane I am sitting next to two women. I get talking to the one next to me who, contrary to appearances (not the least sharply dressed, relaxed look) turns out to be a barrister from Dublin. She comes from a village called Blackrock which is near where my wife comes from in Co. Louth, Ireland. It turns out she has a property she now rents in my wife’s village, Carlingford.

We both then get talking to the third person in our little EasyJet row. She lives in London, but stems from Liverpool and Strabane. She has an English accent and a striking Irish face (the high cheek-boned type). This second woman has an auntie Rosie living in Carlingford. (I check with my wife when I get home and of course she knows Rosie.)

So that’s one row – three people (two British) connected to a small village in Ireland.

No. 343 Rugby League

david lodge a man of parts novel hg wells cover

My wife asks me if I have ever gone to watch Rugby League.

The same day I pick up a long unfinished novel with a view to finally pushing to the end. It is Man of Parts by David Lodge, about HG Wells. The bookmark marking my place where I stopped a couple of years ago is a ticket from the only Rugby League game I ever went to watch. England vs New Zealand at the 2012 Olympic Stadium in Stratford. I bought the ticket by mistake, thinking it was Rugby Union. It is one of the only sports events I have ever walked out of – take all the good things about Rugby, chuck them away and stick with what’s left – that is Rugby League in my (one-off) experience.

No. 344 The English Patient

the-english-patient movie still

The English Patient (1996) with Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes

I am talking to Channel 4 documentary Comissioning Editor Fozia Khan as we enter Belfast International Airport about Anthony Minghella. She lives in the same street as my best-friend and his house was owned by Minghella just before him. Minghella directed among many other movies The English Patient.

The next day I am talking to my wife and the subject of Sikhs comes up – she mentions in particular the Sikh character in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, one of her favourite writers.

(I haven’t thought about The English Patient for many years. I have never read it, think I saw the movie back at the time though not 100% sure.)

No. 345 CUFS

amber reeves

Amber Reeves

I am reading the novel Man of Parts by David Lodge and am intrigued by one of the characters, HG Well’s young lover Amber Reeves. I read that Amber Reeves while at Cambridge set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Fabian Society. This was in 1906 and was the first society at Cambridge to include women from its founding. Female students met on an equal footing with men to discuss a broad range of topics from religion to sex with a freedom not available elsewhere in their lives.

While a Girton girl I set up CUFS – the Cambridge University Film Society. Visitors included Michael Powell, David Puttnam (with an early cut of The Mission), Peter Shaffer (who, unlike me, hated the movie of Equus) and Angela Carter. Sessions ranged from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia to French-Canadian cinema of the 70s (Les Ordres).

No. 346 Holborn

syracuse university logo

One of my best friends is over from Aspen, Colorado (we were teens together but she moved to the USA when she got married). I arrange to meet her for breakfast before work one day as my diary is rammed with work stuff and she has only a couple of days to play with. She suggests me meet at her hotel – it turns out to be in Kingsway, Holborn. I don’t check the exact address or look on the map until I am leaving the house.

The job I have immediately after the get-together is a guest lecture for Syracuse University. They have a London campus. It is in an obscure small lane behind that self-same hotel.

No. 347 B & K

matzah-balls chicken soup jewish

I have a craving for chicken soup and so go for lunch with my middle brother at a Jewish deli at the far end of Edgware – the delicious irony being that is run by a lovely family of Greeks. It is called B & K Salt Beef Bar.

As I sit looking out the big front window onto the wrong end of Edgware High street a van passes belonging to B & K Plumbing & Heating Engineers from Camberley in deep South London/Surrey.

No. 348 Nick & Nora

the thin man movie poster 1934

(1934)

This morning I get an email notification from the Goodreads website. The subject-line is: Updates from Noora and Nick. Noora is an ex-Channel4 colleague who now lives in Finland. Her name is Arabic, as opposed to the Irish spelling. Nick is another old colleague – we worked together on Embarrassing Bodies among others when he was at Maverick TV.

Nick & Nora are the heroes of Dashiell Hammett’s noir detective stories, both fast livers with bad livers (i.e. hard drinkers). I was going to call my son Noah Nora if he had turned out to be a girl – after Nora from The Thin Man.

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Books of 2016 – suggestions for book groups

book_png2115

I put out a call today for books people have read this year which really blew their socks off. It’s my turn to chose for our book group – that’s a thing that only comes round every 20 months or so, so I want to make it a goodie. I wanted to go for Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, which was bought as a gift for my birthday,  but it breaks our 300 page rule. Last time out I chose The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell which was class and memorable.

Here’s what people sent in, mostly published in 2016 (with a few oldies for variety):

  • Ragtime by EL Doctorow
  • Wake & The Beast by Paul Kingsnorth
  • A Brief history of seven killings – Marlon James
  • the vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Station Eleven, Euphoria by Lily King
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  • Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  • His Bloody Project – Gramme Macrame Burnet
  • Mr Penumbras 24 hour bookstore – robin sloan
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • Bel Canto by Anne Pratchett
  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
  • A god in ruins – Kate Atkinson
  • All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

cover

I went in the end with Autumn by Ali Smith (recommended by my friend Bill Thompson) as it’s very topical, one of the first post-Brexit novels, and I’m looking for some insight into how to deal wisely with the fucked up year we’ve just had. I knew I should have just gone to bed when Bowie died and slept through two winters.

Here is the list I made of suggestions for book clubs last year where the question was which book made most impact on your life.

And here’s the list of the first 10 years of our reading group’s books.

Finally here’s a list of recent titles from our group, based on email archaeology working my way back to the end of the first 10 year list (my favourites are bolded):

  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty (11/16)
  • The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt (10/16)
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany (9/16)
  • A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam (6/16)

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (4/16)

  • Joyce Carol Oates:” the man without a shadow” (4/16)

  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (2/16)

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq (1/16)

  • The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami (11/15)

  • The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford (9/15)
  • “In the Country of Men” – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (3/15)

  •  The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (1/15)

  • “Oblivion”by David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • “The Leopard”by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What was Promised by Tobias Hill (6/14)

  • “Stoner: A Novel” – John Williams (Apr 14)
  • “Rabbit at Rest” – John Updike (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (12/13)

  • May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes (11/13)

  •  Irretrievable – Theodore Fontane (9/13)

  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (7/13)

  •  Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (3/13)

  • “Yellow Birds” – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • “There’s no such thing as a free press…” by Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • William Trevor’s ‘Love and Summer’ (11/12)

  • (Life and Fate – Vasily Grossman (8/12))
  • “The Uncoupling” – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Philip Roth’s “Nemesis”(4/12)

  • “Old School” by Tobias Wolff (3/12)

  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Nov 2011)

So our little group has just turned 15 years old. Our next meeting is tomorrow night (The Sellout). Glad to say it’s as good for us today as it’s always been…

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Trigger Mortis

Apparently I registered with WordPress 9 years ago today. How time flies. I’ve got to fly myself now (to Bournemouth to drop off Enfant Terrible No. 1, which is a far more important landmark) so this is a quickie to reflect on the statute of limitations on titles. I’ve written before on the importance of titles such as in Starless and Bible Black.

Any way, it looks like 56 years is the statute of limitation in the world of Anthony Horowitz / James Bond / The Fleming Estate. The title of the new, just published Bond book is Trigger Mortis. The book below was published in 1959 and it’s also a thriller.

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

Trigger Mortis Frank Kane novel cover 1959

By the looks of things, the covers are far superior to the contents. Whether that’s the case with the new Horowitz book, I’ll find out soon as I broached it last night. Its cover is well designed and cool but not much fun, promising something very different to Frank Kane and Johnny Liddell. The title’s crucial. and so is the cover/image. That applies equally to other media such as the one I’m currently focused on: Short Form Video.

Trigger-Mortis-James-Bond Anthony Horowitz novel cover 2015

Tattoo Twists Channel 4 Adam Gee

14 years and counting

The best of the last 4 years

The best of the last 4 years

I marked the 10th anniversary of our old slippers of a book group by listing all that we had read to that auspicious date. The personnel is remarkably stable, adding members very rarely, so to herald the arrival of my friend Martin Bright I am updating the list:

  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (Jun 15)
  • The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell * (Apr 15)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan  (Mar 15)
  • Oblivion – David Foster Wallace (Nov 14)
  • The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (Sep 14)
  • What Was Promised – Tobias Hill (Jun 14)
  • Stoner – John Williams * (Apr 14)
  • Rabbit at Rest – John Updike *** (Feb 14)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro (Dec 13)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Nov 13)
  • Irretrievable -Theodor Fontane (Sept 13)
  • Wise Men -Stuart Nadler (July 13)
  • Bring out the Bodies – Hilary Mantel (March 13)
  • Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers (Jan 13)
  • There’s no such thing as a free press – Mick Hume (Dec 12)
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor (Nov 12)
  • The Uncoupling – Meg Wolitzer (July 12)
  • A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 12)
  • Nemesis – Philip Roth ** (April 12)
  • Old School – Tobias Wolff (March 12)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (Jan 12)
  • the first ten years
The runner-up of last 4 years

The runner-up of last 4 years

Books That Changed Lives – suggestions for book groups

I’ve been in a book group with some old school friends and a motley crew of other geezers for 13 and a bit years now. Here is a summary of our first 10 years. Well it’s my turn to choose the book again now – it takes 18-24 months for the honour to come round these days so you can’t take it lightly. I put a call out to social media friends for books that had really changed their lives or ways of seeing the world. Loads of interesting suggestions came in and rather than let them fade away in the ephemeral world of Facebook etc. I thought I’d save them here so other people in other book groups/book clubs/reading groups could make use of the titles. (The quotations are from the friends making the suggestions.)

Bookshelf books

  • Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
  • Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  • My brilliant friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane
  • Don de Lillo’s Underworld
  • Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – “made me think differently about how the past shapes your present/future and how as individuals we get to choose if the negative parts of our past consume our futures or not. It is also beautifully written and made me revisit poetry too.” “it is the book that taught me how beautiful words can be”
  • Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The social animal – David Brooks
  • Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
  • Andre Agassi’s “Open”
  • The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities
  • Us – David Nicholls
  • Amongst Women by John McGahern
  • Malloy by Samuel Beckett
  • The Master by Colm Tóibín
  • The Country Girls by Edna O’ Brien
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’ Brien
  • The Quest for Corvo – AJA Symons
  • Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  • Birchwood by John Banville
  • How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
  • The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
  • Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
  • The History of History – Ida Hatemer-Higgins
  • Inventing God, Nicholas Mosley – “felt my mind shifting on religion/geopolitics/Middle East. God as the greatest invention of humankind. Humanist but generous to those who have faith – a gentle riposte to the Hitchens/Dawkins approach. In a novel.”
  • A window for one year – John Irving
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – “love, friendship and sacrifice”
  • Wild, Cheyl Strayed
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  • Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  • For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • To the End of the Land, David Grossman
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – “felt the terror of teenage girls when read and re-read both as a teenage girl/40 yr old woman”
  • The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – “felt the power and grace of the quiet man”
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinwe Achebe
  • Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother “Made me respect young people more”
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • The Mezzanine by Nicolson Baker “It’s very short, very unlikely and some in the group will HATE it and for others it’ll change the way they look at the world around them. You’ll never see perforations or a straw in a fizzy drink the same way again.”
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman – “had a huge influence on my going to university and recognising the need to never find oneself in a position where you are wholly reliant on a man. All teenage girls should read it.”
  • William Leith’s The Hungry Years “taught me how not to be a food addict”
  • Cervantes’ Don Quixote “taught me to rely on my inner compass rather than external signage.”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow “showed me that our personal interpretation is where the colour and joy of the world are to be found, but to keep it just shy of solipsism”
  • Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book “became my personal cultural key to unlocking New York”
  • Stoner – John Williams
  • Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse “made me see my middle class/ inner animal struggle in a clear & cleansing light, Damn you Herman Hesse!”
  • Plumed serpent, D. H. Lawrence – “opening to the mythic underbelly”
  • Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ “because his characters are so compelling and so flawed. Our heroine’s youthful arrogance and stubbornness sees her turn down suitors because she values above all her freedom, only to find herself trapped in a way she could not have imagined. I was excited at her prospects and I feared for her. There were other characters I was rooting for too! Having re-read it more than 20 years later, I was interested and surprised to find I had more compassion for some characters I disliked intensely and impatience for those I felt sympathy for when I read it as a teenager. A truly astonishing, complex masterpiece.”
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road “is the most piercing book I’ve read. The description of the trials faced by the father and son has stayed with me for years.”
  • 1984 – George Orwell – “”We are the dead” “You are the dead” stopped me in my 13 year old tracks. Never saw it coming”
  • Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day – “because it really does require you to take a big chunk out of your life to read it – Rams home the idea that reading is subversive: stops you working, earning, socialising and kinda does stop time.”
  • A fraction of the whole – Steve toltz
  • Douglas Coupland’s ‘Microserfs’
  • Be Here Now – Ram Dass
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  • The english and their history by Robert tombs – “Amazing and definitive book that filled in every gap for me in understanding where we live and why it is how it is”
  • The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom “Despite the title, it’s a real page turner. Yalom goes back and forth between Spinoza and Rosenberg (part of Hitler’s propoganda machine). My book club had a fantastic discussion.”
  • Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
  • Humanity: A Moral History of The 20th Century by Professor Jonathan Glover
  • Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Beingby Milan Kundera
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicle -Haruki Murakami – “Extraordinary writing that made me see the world differently”
  • Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Again, thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the list.

In the end I opted for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (partly because I thought Cloud Atlas was something pretty special). Will report back on how it goes.

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